Tariff Issue


 “A Local Question”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   November 13, 1880, p. 721

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
For most of the campaign, both political parties ran as far away from the issues as they could. Republicans "waved the bloody shirt" and warned of the lack of political experience of Winfield Hancock, the Democratic presidential nominee. Meanwhile, Democrats waged a war of character assassination against James Garfield, the Republican presidential nominee. (See the 1880 Overview to this website for more details.)

That situation changed in early September when a Democratic-Fusion candidate won the Maine gubernatorial election. Senator James Blaine of Maine convinced Garfield to have the Republican party put aside the "bloody shirt" and focus on the tariff issue. A month later, Hancock played into their hands by giving an interview to the Paterson, New Jersey, Daily Guardian (published October 8), in which he called the tariff question a local issue. Overjoyed Republicans now had what seemed like a glaring example of the Democratic presidential nominee's political ignorance and naïveté, and on just the issue that the Republicans wanted to emphasize.

In reality, Hancock was trying to avoid discussion of tariff policy by saying that the electorate should decide the contentious issue by voting for congressional candidates who supported their position. It was a stance taken by other politicians, including, as Democratic leaders eagerly pointed out, Congressman Garfield. The Republicans, however, were able to exploit Hancock's gaffe effectively, making him an object of ridicule, as in this Harper's Weekly cover by Thomas Nast published (November 3) at the end of the campaign.

In this cartoon, Hancock (right) leans toward Senator Theodore Fitz Randolph of New Jersey, inquiring "Who is Tariff, and why is he for revenue only?" Although both parties were split on the issue, the Democratic platform of 1880 had endorsed a tariff policy that was aimed only at generating revenue for the federal government, and would thus be lower than the current rates. The Republican party, on the other hand, was beginning to emerge more clearly as the party of protectionism. Under such a policy, tariff rates would be so high that they not only raised revenue but discouraged the purchase of foreign goods, thereby allegedly "protecting" American business and industry from international competition. Here, though, Hancock is completely befuddled, assuming that Tariff is a person and not knowing to what purpose the man would be promoting revenue. Randolph, who represented the state where the offending interview was given, had sought clarification on Hancock's position after it appeared in the paper.













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